Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Coby, Thad, DeMarcus Cousins, and more

John Stuercke:

I am the first to admit that I was wrong about Zach and I think Billy Donovan is a big reason he has become a better all around player. I still think a distributing point guard is our number one requirement. So do we roll the dice in the draft or wheel and deal. I'm for the latter. Straight up. Ben Simmons for Zack Lavine? I would pull the trigger.

Sam Smith:

It is comforting to know the world remains on its axis and some Bulls fans still want to trade Zach. Not nearly as many, I will acknowledge, but some. Though I also see some contradiction here. Wrong about Zach being a star? So trade him? Let me work on that a little. No, I’m sticking with Zach. I’ve long admired Simmons and with the 76ers having the best record in the East and playing better with Simmons, an All-Star again, it’s not clear why they would be trading him. Oh yeah, they’re not. Though since we only are dealing in hypotheticals with this one, I would not trade Zach for him because if you don’t have Zach then you need Zach. Simmons is great, by the way. I’d be tempted as dominant as he can be at times. And I agree it would be helpful to have a player like Simmons. We know dribbling isn’t exactly Coby White’s specialty. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it seems obvious he’s been playing better lately as a catch and shoot player more than making plays (and shots) off the dribble. But you need a player like that. So I’m keeping Coby, too. The Clippers seem to believe they can win a title having a player like Lou Williams. Simmons wouldn’t matter nearly as much without Embiid and all that scoring. Simmons is Steve Sax trying to throw to first base when it comes to the basket. He still won’t even try to shoot. You better have an All-Star scorer with Simmons or he won’t be as effective. It’s not as easy as some think to replace Zach. After all, the Bulls haven’t had a player who has scored like that since 1998. Sometimes when you pull the trigger you get a misfire.

Stanley Quinn:

Maybe you can help me understand. Why do bulls fans and some media want a facilitating PG for? In the past 30 years you can obviously see having a forward facilitate is better and easier way to win a ring. Passing PGs like Cp3, Nash, Stockton dont have rings because its easy to limit teams offense when you have the smallest guy on the team running a predictable offense in the playoffs. Curry,tony parker,kyrie, Derrick fisher etc are all score first pgs or just shooters who have won most of the rings. Coby is the perfect fit ( if he stay consistent) lonzo will never win a ring starting. Lebron facilitates for lakers, green for gsw, etc..

Sam Smith:

I understand your point and it’s appropriate, but it’s not as simple as that and you seem to have the point. What they mean is someone who can make plays and get the ball to the right players in the right position, what coaches often call organizing the team. Arcidiacono does some of that; he needs to be able to score more, which is what elevated a similarly undrafted small guard like Fred VanVleet. Kirk Hinrich was great at that. He just didn’t have enough greatness with him until Derrick came along to replace him. Really only Thad Young can do that now, and he plays center, sort of. Young also is off the bench unlike Jokic, and Thad is an older player nearing his last few seasons, which the way he plays still should be good ones. Point guard is more shorthand for that kind of player, none of whom now exist among the Bulls so called younger core. But that’s also what free agency, trades and the offseason are about. Plus, White just turned 21, which is the age Michael Jordan still was in college preparing for the pro draft. So maybe we can’t fully eliminate him yet.

Brian Tucker

We are stoked for Zach! While it seemed like a no-brainer to me that Zach was going to be named an all-star, it’s quite an impressive feat given the players that he had to beat out for the last spot. Really special for him, and a credit to his efforts and dedication. There are a couple things that we need to consider moving forward. First is whether or not AK will be committing to Zach long-term, which will likely require a max or very near max deal. Second, we probably should keep his brother Thad around at least through the end of his contract after next season. Their close and long-term relationship is really cool and a huge factor in Zach being where he is right now, and Thad would probably prove quite beneficial for taking the next step as a team seeking sustained success. We could do a lot worse. Crazy how we went from not understanding what his role would be on this roster and him being a logical trade asset to him being such an integral catalyst for the team’s development and becoming a legit playoff contender.

Sam Smith:

Crazy how that works. Sometimes patience is the reward, but it would limit these columns and sports conversation. I assume Arturas was hoping with his small sample of offseason moves—both very good, Billy and Patrick Williams—that the Bulls would be a better team. Now that they are and have some real possibilities regarding this season, he truly has an interesting offseason ahead. Sure there’s a long way to go as we like to point out. But if the Bulls can get in the middle of things and back to .500 or more and respectability or whatever that is now in the Eastern Conference, the next step really is the difficult one. Look at Miami..

Luke Gault:

Do we have the cap space to sign the waived DeMarcus Cousins? Surely he’s a step up from Kornet, who has been seeing some spot backup center time as of late.

Sam Smith:

Yes and no. I assume Cousins is just looking for a job and a chance to get a contract next summer, so he’ll take a minimum, which doesn’t require cap space. It does require a roster spot, so the Bulls would have to release someone. Which isn’t going to be a problem since I cannot imagine a circumstance that would lead the Bulls to add Cousins unless family members were being held for ransom. Even though I agree they need a backup center. Luke Kornet actually has been playing again even if he has made just one three pointer since February 20…2020. But size does matter, and he helped against Karl-Anthony Towns. Daniel Gafford has generally been too small against the centers, which is not an extinct position. Billy Donovan said he’s played Kornet for floor spacing with his ability to shoot—if not make—threes. Gafford won’t shoot, which clogs things up because then his defender plays off and helps against Zach driving or Thad in the lane. Though It seemed to me Kornet played more for size against the big centers to at least annoy them. Cousins might be able to do that, but his history is mostly to annoy those he plays with. The Bulls have too good a group and too much positive chemistry that I would add a player like that, who is still going to be just a backup to Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls still need the rest of the season to see what they have in Carter, who has averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds on 60 percent shooting since his early return from injury. His plus/minus has been about one, so he’s not a detriment. Cousins generally is.

Fred Robinson:

I still believe Andre Drummond can be had for minimum a first round draft choice, Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. While I do not advocate trading Lauri Markkanen, I listen. It is painfully obvious that this current roster needs a healthy, legitimate center. Drummond fits that box, 27, 15 points per game, rebounding champion, All-Star. If anything Drummond accelerates the rebuild. Witness the Bulls defense. The last 9 games the opposition has averaged 112.3 points a game (scoring 115.6 in that stretch). It could summarily be argued that Wendell Carter Jr. and Markkanen, in particular, would greatly benefit health wise because they will see less minutes at center, thus lessening the chance for injury. The fact that the organization can exact the resolve of trading for Drummond without upsetting your core group of players further lends credence to bringing him on board.

Sam Smith:

He’s the other “big” weekly trade question I get, and I wouldn’t trade a first round pick for a rental as Drummond will become a free agent. You make good points for a contending team, and perhaps the Bulls are on the way toward that since, as we’ve been noting, they’re a game or so out of even a first round playoff home court advantage in the average East. Of course also a game or two out of 11th. But trending the correct way, actually. For the Bulls, Drummond is a backup big man, which the Bulls do need. I believe management will remain consistent in its commitment to Carter for at least the rest of this season. He’s played well enough in his return to justify that. Drummond does put up amazing numbers, but you continue to hear even from teammates about an indifference toward the game. If I thought I were really close to the Finals I might be thinking differently.

Steve Schnakenberg

I'm sure you've been asked about DeMarcus Cousins. Do you think there is any way he doesn't end up in either LA or with the Nets?

Sam Smith:

I’d say Nets if they can’t get Drummond on a buyout. As much as many would like to see an addition for the Bulls, especially inside, I suspect the mercenary big guys will find their way to buyouts and teams like the Nets first, the Lakers after they lost Montrezl Harrell. Perhaps the Celtics, Mavericks or Raptors. Maybe it comes down to expectations. They were not as high for the Bulls this season as with those other teams. So they’re perhaps more desperate. Then you say, and I won’t argue, if you’re the Bulls why not take advantage of exceeding expectations? It’s a reasonable question, and I’d consider an addition. I tend to believe, however, that Karnisovas chooses to ride it out with the current group and get longer looks at Carter and Markkanen before having to make decisions this summer.

Kieron Smith:

Make Denzel Valentine a point guard already. Denzel not only has the height, but also the skills to knock down threes from downtown. Besides, with Garrett, Satoransky, and Mokoka all listed as SGs, do Bulls really/truly need to keep Denzel as one as well?

Sam Smith:

I believe someone will; maybe not the Bulls. I think it’s probably enough for Denzel now that he’s finally gotten healthy and a chance to play. But the various directions of the NBA should provide encouragement for a player like Valentine; the Bulls made the right choice to bring him back. Even though he hasn’t shot well lately—and he’s a good shooter—he’s remained a part of Billy Donovan’s regulars. I was watching games the other night and the two best players in the NBA that night were Jokic and Luka, who also were the two slowest players in the NBA, and two of the poorer defenders. But they are so adept with the ball, so smart. You know, also like the deliberate Thad Young. I don’t see the Bulls handing the ball to Valentine, though I guess it’s possible. But if some team invested in him and gave him the ball full time and time to be that facilitator that he was in college, he might be an interesting choice as that playmaker. One of the mistakes teams often make is to judge too much by athleticism. Being a basketball player also can be useful.

Bob Kulovany:

So with 6’8” Thadgic Young currently our best center, Lauri definitely not physical enough, and Carter not quite athletic enough to man the middle, might we look into the possibility of trading for a young guy to grow into the role? I’m thinking Orlando’s Mo Bamba. He’s third on the depth chart, is not developing much due to playing so few minutes, and still has fantastic potential as an athletic, stretch 5, who runs the floor like a gazelle. Extrapolate his numbers to 36 minutes and he looks like a star in the waiting. It has been rumored that the Lakers want him but there doesn’t appear to be a good trade match. Why don’t we give it a shot? What might it take to pry him lose and would he be a good fit for our future?

Sam Smith:

The Magic is a tough team to read because they’ve been decimated by long term injuries with Isaac and Fultz out. They don’t look like a playoff team with what’s left and the second worst point differential in the conference, which translates to well out of the playoffs. You’re correct Bamba rarely plays and even with some injuries is looking like a draft bust. But teams don’t like to look that bad on their picks without giving them a chance. I suspect it would cost a high first round pick for a look, which likely isn’t worth it. I recall from that draft as Bamba went just before Carter that while Bamba may have had the best personality among those top picks his desire for the game seemed a big concern to NBA teams. I don’t see the Magic in a hurry to give up on him going nowhere at this point.

Joe Jebuzz:

I admit it's the longest of longshots, but seeing he has a option on his contract next year. Wouldnt Kawhi Leonard look awfully good in a Bulls uni? The team has enough expiring contracts(I think) to offer him a max deal and still preserve the core of their team. Additionally if they play it right I believe they can max Zach too. Whadya think?

Sam Smith:

I think it’s the longest of long shots. I assume you still pick the 100-1 shots at the track. I recently got some awards winner odds listing Blake Griffin at 250 to one to win the league MVP. Could be a big payoff if you wanted to get in on that one, also.

Alejandro Yegros:

I love Thad. Beyond the fact that he's our second best player, I believe he's really helping the development of Wendell. However, I was looking at Jae Crowder's stat profile and i've become a "Trade Thad" guy. Crowder last year with the Heat was really good. He had an outlier year, they were great... and now he's back down ot earth and he's tanked back down. Thad is a better player than Crowder, so I don't see him falling as low as quick; but do you also believe that the time is now to sell high on Thad?

Sam Smith:

I’m not so sure how high anyone can sell on a 32-year-old reserve averaging about 12 points. The fact is we (and you) know a lot more about Thad’s value than all the other GMs. Because we watch the Bulls regularly and they don’t, and they don’t see how valuable he’s been and how much he does or hear him with the other players like we do. Now, they did know last season Thad was a better player than we saw because they’d watched him before and we saw him miscast as few players of his talent level have been in the NBA. That’s over with. Now you’re seeing the guy teams like the 76ers and Pacers loved for his sacrifice, professionalism and versatility. And why the Bulls players never could figure out how to stop him, either. But he’s more an acquired taste than relevant star. He’s generally appreciated more by basketball players than basketball fans. Which is why it’s difficult to get enough for a player like that in a midseason trade, and you’d need a lot to justify it given how much the Bulls have come to depend on him. Though this does reduce my trade Zach emails.

Howard Blumstein:

I love the way the Bulls are playing this season and I think Thad Young is playing a critical role in their success with his on-court play and leadership. I also like Coby White’s scoring explosiveness but it seems he’s not a point guard. My question is would you trade Thad for Lonzo before the break? I love the thought of having Ball run the offense and Coby coming off the bench, but I am getting more concerned as every game goes by about the effect of losing Thad. The team as currently constructed is getting so good and is obviously well coached. Outside of the Nets, the East doesn’t look impossible.

Sam Smith:

You appropriately expressed the paradox. Thad is playing a critical role. So why trade him? I get it, but if you can get a former high lottery pick who is having a career season and might fit with you for a decade for a 14-year veteran who has been pivotal, why not? But for how long? I’d suggest there’s no way you could get a player like that, but we keep hearing these “rumors” about the Pelicans trading him. Which I don’t get since not only hasn’t the team stopped playing him, as we’ve seen elsewhere, but he plays about as much as anyone on that team, more than 33 minutes per game as a starter and has played great. And not a word from dad. Maybe they don’t want to pay him; I have no idea. He’d be a heck of an addition in starting to put players in better positions for the future, but you might take a step back this season because of how much Thad has meant and how nearly impossible it would be with basically no practice time the second half to build a new offense around that kind of player given how long it’s taken the Bulls to adjust to the talent already there. If they are trading him, I suspect you’d better consider giving up a lottery pick. I still don’t believe they are.

Larry Jurkins:

Does John Wall think you get points for dribbling between your legs? That was painful to watch.

Sam Smith:

Like I’ve mentioned, it appears after watching Harden that it is in the Rockets play book. I guess you can’t believe how much they hated Westbrook if they were willing to take on Wall averaging more than $45 million a year the next two seasons after this. Seriously, someone has to say something. Preferably a coach, which is a problem when you’ve got a first timer.

Gary Salter:

With the Bulls looking a great shout for a play-off spot this year, I was thinking what they need to do to make the next step (apart from improve their defence). Play-off games will develop all the players, but a real presence in the paint may be required to stop the likes Joel Embiid scoring 50+. Would this trade work? Bulls send Lauri Markannen, Denzel Valentine and a first round pick (not top 6) to the T-Wolves for Karl Anthony-Towns.

Sam Smith:

Not even close on salary. But besides the inability to do so, Towns is Minnesota’s answer and problem, which we just saw Wednesday. I guess you can’t really judge much now with a new coach, Russell out and Towns just back from an awful season of injury, illness and family loss. He’s their future with his maximum financial commitment, but also their problem because he’s not as talented and plays like Embiid did, too much outside shooting thinking he’s a Curry. Doc Rivers has done great work getting Embiid back near the basket this season, which will be the job of the latest coach in Minnesota. No one seems to be able to. They may eventually have to make a move, but they just bought another year or two trying to figure it out.

John Petersen:

You do not expect any Bulls activity before the trade deadline but…..
Young is playing very well and could be appealing to a significant contender, maybe because of an injury or whatever. If you were offered a 2021 #1 pick, probably non lottery, would you make the deal?

Sam Smith:

I would not. Like it’s been mentioned…other than Brooklyn. I know this month as the Bulls have gotten a nice run going they haven’t played many top teams, and mostly not the teams they’ll have to beat for a decent spot in the East playoffs, like Miami, Boston and Toronto. They’ve had a run facing shorthanded teams, and while you say the Bulls have been missing Carter and longer Markkanen and Porter, one of the Bulls strengths we knew coming into the season was being able to bring so many real NBA players off the bench unlike most teams. And even the best teams who are so heavily invested in paying stars. The Bulls aren’t yet. You also never want to judge a team when they are winning and at their best, as the Bulls have been lately to get to 15-16 going into Friday’s game with hot Phoenix. Still, I do think the Bulls have something going on in combination with a poorer Eastern Conference than it seemed. In addition to the recent perennials like Miami and Toronto, who came out slowly, Indiana has had big time injury issues that aren’t changing this season and the Bucks and Celtics have taken steps back. Giannis has been more predictable and the Celtics MVP may be Marcus Smart and not the All-Stars. The Bulls do have a real chance to make a run back to respectability this season and certainly LaVine is the main reason, but also the veterans led by Young. He’s been the ideal veteran because he’s produced and been a leader. Locker room presence is overrated if you can’t show more on the court. Young has this season, and unless I were offered way more than just another chance to try to develop a player I would not move Young. The Bulls have enough young players, though not enough players who are Young.

Dorian Christmas:

Zach LaVine or Jamal Murray? Which player has a higher ceiling and potential? All bias aside, which is the better player to build a team around?

Sam Smith:

It’s bulls.com, you know. That said, Zach never has made as bad a play as Murray did at the end of their Thursday loss to the Wizards, turning a three-on-one break for the tie and overtime into a missed three. It sort of sums up the “modern” NBA that has the old NBA players rolling their eyes, shaking their heads and convinced they were better, if not bigger. Seriously, Murray is a terrific player, but the Nuggets have built around Jokic. Zach’s athletic ability to get to the basket is the tiebreaker. Zach’s also a better shooter, though it’s why I dislike the comparisons. I’d love to have Murray also. Players like Khris Middleton and Murray seem like more complementary stars. I believe Zach has greater individual ability. It would help him to play with Jokic.

Mike Beating:

I remember a few years back I had a candid conversation with Jerry Krause about how the Bulls as a whole seemed to garner so much " negative " press and that sports writers always found ways to " bad mouth " the Bulls. Mr. Krause said something that at the time I felt was a little tongue in cheek but also possibly arrogant. Mr. Krause said simply " When you have been as dominant and as successful as we have as an organization for so long, you gather enemies. " I remember reminding him that the Jordan years were over and that the Bulls we're not successful at the time. Mr. Krause responded " People have long memories , and many writers are fans of teams we defeated repeatedly. “ What makes that conversation come to mind now is in 2021 the sports beat writers and bloggers all still seem to be jealous of the Bulls and take every opportunity to disrespect the Bulls. The trades that I see so called " experts " put forth for some of the Bulls players are laughable. The disrespect of Lavine is contagious with these hacks. It feels as if they all just read each other's write ups and then just regurgitate the same tired notions. I clearly see that Mr. Krause was indeed correct in his assessment and that there is still a great deal of animus directed at the Bulls organization by the NBA world ".The best answer to this ‘hate’ is to build another dynasty.... I know it's easier said than done, but man would I enjoy watching the haters chow down on that humble pie all over again.

Sam Smith:

Candid conversation with Jerry? Now that’s impressive. I think things are changing. I only got a few emails this week asking to trade Zach; actually more to trade Thad since he’s been the second best player. It’s really simple, which is what sports is. I try not to remind myself of that too often having made it my career. If you are successful you are smart and beloved. If you are not successful, then you are neither smart nor beloved. Jerry was having trouble with that beloved part when they were successful, unfortunately. A lot of it was the sense of humor part. I remember writing a story about talking to Jerry before the draft. Jerry was even more secretive than most about the draft. “Hello,” he lied, I wrote (one real sign of getting old, I know, is quoting yourself). Jerry missed the humor in it. Things have been changing for the Bulls, I believe. After all they doubled their national TV appearances in the second half of the NBA schedule. Yes, from one to two. But they now have an All-Star and legitimate candidates for Coach of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. Enjoy it if they begin to have more success, and forget about media haters chowing down on anything but a free meal. There are not apologies; just unforeseen events.

Mark Kollar:

I happened to not erase the first Indiana game from December and watched some of it right after the last Indiana game from the 15th. Granted that Indiana had a bad shooting night, it was instructive how much better, especially on defense, the Bulls have become. Systems and coaching really do matter. I think over the off season individual players improve but during the season it is the system that either incorporates and directs that talent or doesn’t. It is fun to see progress. Also, I am always impressed by the quality of the comments you get on your site and the welcome lack of jerkism. You have a regular crew of contributors and it a pleasure to read them.

Sam Smith:

I guess you’re not recording many episodes of The View like I am. I tend to be one who credits (or blames) the players more, but the coaching change has made a massive difference, which is apparent. Boylen never was a head coach in the NBA, and Billy came in with a lot of credibility as an experienced college champion and NBA playoff coach who had respect from the best in the game. Then he had the advantage of players looking for help without much achievement and thus willing to adhere to his teachings. Not that they weren’t trying before. He united that with a plan, a system of play, belief, accountability and an ability to get the best out of players. Quin Snyder and Doc Rivers probably are the Coach of the Year frontrunners, especially Snyder with essentially the same Jazz team and where they are. But it’s essentially also the same Bulls team that can’t be more different. Donovan looks like a top COY contender. The betting services put out next coach to be fired odds after a firing as there was with Minnesota Sunday. So Donovan went from 50 to one to 60 to one to be fired this season. I still wouldn’t take that bet. Thanks for mentioning the comments. I’m proud of those Bulls fans as part of a rare social media/internet phenomenon of intelligent, well thought out commentary and analysis. I try to make this column conversational, and I do notice the fans who comment after my game stories tend to be knowledgeable and make salient points about the game and the team without the often frequent demands for most everyone to lose their jobs and contracts often in not so analytical language. See, like they say on the broadcasts, the Bulls do have the best fans.

Matthew Chilewich:

Zach is a star. What a great moment for zach. So deserving. Hope the team builds around him. If Bulls fans can't cheer on this kid, they don't know hard work and talent. This is a great kid

Sam Smith:

No comment necessary.